History of trade unions in the United Kingdom

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The history of trade unions in the United Kingdom covers British trade union organisation, activity, ideas, politics, and impact, from the early 19th century to the present.

18-19th century[edit]

Meeting of the trade unionists in Copenhagen Fields, 21 April 1834, for the purpose of carrying a petition to the King for a remission of the sentence passed on the Dorchester labourers

Unions in Britain were subject to often severe repression until 1824, but were already widespread in cities such as London. Trade unions were legalised in 1824, when growing numbers of factory workers joined these associations in their efforts to achieve better wages and working conditions. Workplace militancy had also manifested itself as Luddism and had been prominent in struggles such as the 1820 Rising in Scotland, in which 60,000 workers went on a general strike, which was soon crushed. From 1830 on, attempts were made to set up national general unions, most notably Robert Owen's Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834, which attracted a range of socialists from Owenites to revolutionaries. That organisation played a part in the protests after the Tolpuddle Martyrs' case, but soon collapsed.

An important development of the trade union movement in Wales was the Merthyr Rising in May 1831 where coal and steel workers employed by the powerful Crawshay family took to the streets of Merthyr Tydfil, calling for reform, protesting against the lowering of their wages and general unemployment. Gradually the protest spread to nearby industrial towns and villages and by the end of May the whole area was in rebellion, and for the first time in the world the red flag of revolution was flown – which has since been adopted internationally by the trades union movement and socialist groups generally.


In the later 1830s and 1840s, trade unionism was overshadowed by political activity. Of particular importance was Chartism, the aims of which were supported by most socialerals, although none appear to have played leading roles. Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain which existed from 1838 to 1858. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country, and the South Wales Valleys. Support for the movement was at its highest in 1839, 1842, and 1848, when petitions signed by millions of working people were presented to Parliament. The strategy employed was to use the scale of support which these petitions and the accompanying mass meetings demonstrated to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. Chartism thus relied on constitutional methods to secure its aims, though there were some who became involved in insurrectionary activities, notably in south Wales and Yorkshire. The government did not yield to any of the demands, and suffrage had to wait another two decades. Chartism was popular among some trade unions, especially London's tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, and masons. One reason was the fear of the influx of unskilled labour, especially in tailoring and shoe making. In Manchester and Glasgow, engineers were deeply involved in Chartist activities. Many trade unions were active in the general strike of 1842, which spread to 15 counties in England and Wales, and eight in Scotland. Chartism taught techniques and political skills that inspired trade union leadership.[1][2]

New establishments[edit]

Union activity from the 1850s to the 1950s in textiles and engineering was largely in the hands of the skilled workers. They supported differentials in pay and status as opposed to the unskilled. They focused on control over machine production and were aided by competition among firms in the local labour market.[3]

After the Chartist movement of 1848 fragmented, efforts were made to form a labour coalition. The Miners' and Seamen's United Association in the North-East, operated 1851–1854 before it too collapsed because of outside hostility and internal disputes over goals. The leaders sought working-class solidarity as a long-term aim, thus anticipating the affiliative strategies promoted by the Labour Parliament of 1854.[4]

More permanent trade unions were established from the 1850s, better resourced but often less radical. The London Trades Council was founded in 1860, and the Sheffield Outrages spurred the establishment of the Trades Union Congress in 1868. The legal status of trade unions in the United Kingdom was established by a Royal Commission on Trade Unions in 1867, which agreed that the establishment of the organisations was to the advantage of both employers and employees. Unions were legalised in 1871 with the adoption of the Trade Union Act 1871.

New Unionism: 1889–93[edit]

The "aristocracy of labour" comprise the skilled workers who were proud and jealous of their monopolies, and set up labour unions to keep out the unskilled and semiskilled. The strongest unions of the mid-Victorian period were unions of skilled workers such as the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. Trade unionism was quite uncommon amongst semi-skilled and unskilled workers.[5] The union officials avoided militancy, fearing that strikes would threaten the finances of unions and thereby their salaries. An unexpected strike wave broke out in 1889–90, largely instigated by the rank and file. Its success can be explained by the dwindling supply of rural labour, which in turn increased the bargaining power of unskilled workers. The New Unionism starting in 1889 was a systematic outreach to bring in as union members the striking unskilled and semiskilled workers. Ben Tillett was a prominent leader of the London Dock strike of 1889. He formed the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers' Union in 1889, which had support from skilled workers. Its 30,000 members won an advance in wages and working conditions.[6][7][8]

Unions played a prominent role in the creation of the Labour Representation Committee which effectively formed the basis for today's Labour Party.


Women were largely excluded from trade union formation, membership, and hierarchies until the late 20th century. When women did attempt to challenge male hegemony and make inroads into the representation of labour and combination, it was largely due to the tenacity of middle-class reformers such as the Women's Protective and Provident League (WPPL) which sought to amiably discuss conditions with employers in the 1870s. It became the Women's Trade Union League.[9] Militant Socialists broke away from the WPPL and formed the Women's Trade Union Association, but they had little impact.[10] There were a few cases in the 19th century where women trade union members took initiative. In the 1875 West Yorkshire weavers' strike, women did play a central role.[11]

Emerging Labour Party[edit]

The Labour Party's origins lie in the late 19th century, when it became apparent that there was a need for a new political party to represent the interests and needs of the urban proletariat, a demographic which had increased in number and had recently been given franchise.[12] Some members of the trades union movement became interested in moving into the political field, and after further extensions of the voting franchise in 1867 and 1885, the Liberal Party endorsed some trade-union sponsored candidates. The first Lib–Lab candidate to stand was George Odger in the Southwark by-election of 1870. In addition, several small socialist groups had formed around this time, with the intention of linking the movement to political policies. Among these were the Independent Labour Party, the intellectual and largely middle-class Fabian Society, the Marxist Social Democratic Federation[13] and the Scottish Labour Party.

Since 1900[edit]


Politics became a central issue for the coal miners, whose organisation was facilitated by their location in remote one-industry villages. The Miners' Federation of Great Britain formed in 1888, and counted 600,000 members in 1908. Much of the 'old left' of Labour politics can trace its origins to coal-mining areas.[14]

Upheavals: 1910–14[edit]

The years 1910–14 witnessed serious industrial unrest and an enormous increase in trade union membership, which affected all industries to varying extents.[15] The militants are most active in coal mining, textiles and transportation. Much of the militancy emerged from grassroots protests against falling real wages, with union leadership scrambling to catch up. The new unions of semiskilled workers were the most militant.[16] The National Sailors' and Firemen's Union directed strike activities in many port cities across Britain. The national leadership was strongly supported by local leaders, for example the Glasgow Trades Council. In Glasgow and other major cities there were distinctive local variations. Glasgow was more unified and coherent than most centres. The long-term result was seen in the strength of waterfront organisation on the Clyde River, marked as it was by the emergence of independent locally based unions among both dockers and seamen.[17]

First World War[edit]

Industrial production of munitions was a central feature of the war, and with a third of the men in the labour force moved into the military, demand was very high for industrial labour. Large numbers of women were employed temporarily.[18] Trade unions gave strong support to the war effort, cutting back on strikes and restrictive practices. Membership doubled from 4.1 million in 1914, to 8.3 million in 1920. 65 percent of union members had been associated with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 1914, rising to 77 percent in 1920. Labour's prestige had never been higher, and it systematically placed its leaders into Parliament.[19]

The Munitions of War Act 1915 followed the Shell Crisis of 1915 when supplies of material to the front became a political issue. The Act forbade strikes and lock-outs and replaced them with compulsory arbitration. It set up a system of controlling war industries, and established munitions tribunals that were special courts to enforce good working practices. It suspended, for the duration, restrictive practices by trade unions. It tried to control labour mobility between jobs. The courts ruled the definition of munitions was broad enough to include textile workers and dock workers. 1915 act was repealed in 1919, but similar legislation took effect during the Second World War.[20][21][22]

In Glasgow, the heavy demand for munitions and warships strengthened union power. There emerged a radical movement called "Red Clydeside" led by militant trades unionists. Formerly a Liberal Party stronghold, the industrial districts switched to Labour by 1922, with a base among the Irish Catholic working class districts. Women were especially active solidarity on housing issues. However, the "Reds" operated within the Labour Party and had little influence in Parliament; the mood changed to passive despair by the late 1920s.[23]

The war saw in a further increase in union membership, as well as widespread recognition of unions and their increased involvement in management. Strikes were not patriotic, and the government tried to hold wages down. At war's end unions became quite militant in attempting to hold their gains; they were usually defeated. Membership grew from 4.1 million in 1914 to 6.5 million in 1918, peaking at 8.3 million in 1920 before relapsing to 5.4 million in 1923.[24]


The immediate postwar era saw a series of radical events, stimulated in part by the communist/Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917. The trade unions especially in Scotland were militant. However the government compromised, and as the economy stabilised in the early 1920s the labour unions moved sharply to the right. An exception came with the coal miners union, which faced lower wages in a declining industry hurt by lower prices, severe competition from oil, and sharply declining productivity in Britain's ageing coal mines.[25]

The 1926 General Strike was declared by the Trades Union Congress for the benefit of the coal miners, but it failed. It was a nine-day nationwide walkout of one million railwaymen, transport workers, printers, dockers, ironworkers and steelworkers supporting the 1.5 million coal miners who had been locked out. Ultimately many miners returned to work, and were forced to accept longer hours and lower pay.

Additionally, in 1927 the government passed sweeping anti-union legislation under the Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act. This imposed major curbs on union power, including outlawing sympathetic strikes and mass picketing, and ensuring that civil service unions were banned from affiliating with the TUC. The 1926 general strike was considered a grave mistake by TUC leaders such as Ernest Bevin. Most historians treat it as a singular event with few long-term consequences, but Martin Pugh says it accelerated the movement of working-class voters to the Labour Party, which led to future gains.[26][27] The Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927 made general strikes illegal and ended the automatic payment of union members to the Labour Party. That act was largely repealed in 1946.

Foreign policy[edit]

The foreign policy of the trade unions was generally anti-Communist. Support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–39 Was widespread on the left, attendees included conservatives and liberals as well. However, the Labour Party leadership deeply distrusted the communist element and rejected proposed unity campaigns.[28]

The TUC, working in collaboration with the American Federation of Labor blocked a 1937 proposal to allow Soviet trade union membership in the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The TUC reversed its policy in 1938 to allow the Russians in, but one backed opposition in 1939 when Stalin and Hitler came to terms. When Britain entered the war, the TUC was a strong supporter, and it sent leaders to the United States to win American labour support. When Hitler invaded Russia in 1941, TUC sent leaders to Moscow as well, realising that Britain needed a military alliance against Hitler. Meanwhile, the AFL fought against any recognition of Soviet organisations, and fought its own battle with the CIO which was pro—Moscow. As a result of these manipulations, the foreign policy voice of organised labour in both Britain and the United States was seriously weakened. It played little role in the formation of the United Nations as the war ended. After the war, the British unions resumed a staunchly anti-communist and anti-Soviet position.[29][30] Communists did however occupy local positions of power especially in the coal miners' union.[31]

While involvement in foreign policy went poorly, British trade unions grew dramatically in membership and power during the Second World War. The unexpected landslide of the Labour Party in 1945 gave it a strong voice in national affairs, Especially with Ernest Bevin as Foreign Minister.[32]

Since 1945[edit]

Trade unions reached their peak of membership, visibility, prestige and political power in the postwar era. A broad "post-war consensus" accepted their status, and they were heavily represented in the leadership of the Labour Party.[33][34] By the 1970s their power had grown further, but their prestige was in decline and the consensus disappeared. In the 1980s the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher deliberately and significantly weakened the trade union movement. It has never recovered.[35]

The strong anti-communist policy persisted in the postwar era. The unions gave strong support to British participation in the Cold War and NATO, as well as international bodies such as the international Confederation of Free Trade Unions that excluded communist unions of the sort that joined the Soviet-dominated World Federation of Trade Unions. In some trades, especially coal mining, the Communists did have some power, as typified by Arthur Scargill, the president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from 1982 to 2002. Scargill defied public opinion, a trait Prime Minister Thatcher exploited when she defeated his strike in 1985.[36] More effective in the Communist cause was Ken Gill, president of a large union and in 1974 the first Communist elected in decades to the TUC General Council. He focused on racial issues.[37] British unions collaborated with the AFL–CIO in the United States on international projects. In the 1980s, worldwide union attention focused on the Solidarity union movement in Poland, which finally succeeded in breaking the communist control of that country. Norman Willis, the general secretary of the TUC, vigorously promoted union support for Solidarity.[38] The nuclear disarmament movement, which played a major role in Labour Party internal politics in the 1980s, was primarily a middle-class movement that had little support in the labour movement.[39]


Major strike action by British unions during the 1978–1979 Winter of Discontent contributed to the downfall of the Labour government of James Callaghan. Callaghan, himself a trade-unionist, had previously appealed for unions to exercise pay restraint, as part of the British Government's policies at the time to try to curb rampant inflation. His attempt to try to limit unions to a 5% pay rise led to widespread official and unofficial strikes across the country during the winter of that year. Official and unofficial strike action by lorry drivers, rail workers, nurses and ambulance drivers precipitated a feeling of crisis in the country. The effects of the union action caused a major swing in voting intention. In November 1978, a Gallup poll suggested a 5% Labour lead in the opinion polls. Following the union action that Winter, in February 1979, the Conservatives had a 20% lead.

Thatcher and 1980s[edit]

Callaghan's government fell and Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives swept to victory in the subsequent general election and introduced new union laws in part to combat the industrial unrest that had plagued the previous Wilson and Callaghan governments. The unions in turn were her bitter enemies. Thatcher saw strong trade unions as an obstacle to economic growth and passed restrictive legislation of the sort the Tories had long avoided.[40] More than 6,000 printing workers went on strike in 1986 in the Wapping dispute, for what they and their union saw as "unacceptable" terms of employment for jobs at The Sun newspaper's new HQ in Wapping. They too lost.[41]

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had long been one of the strongest labour unions. Its strikes had toppled the Heath government in the 1970s- the miners were successful in their 1984–1985 strike, when a 12-month strike was called by NUM leader Arthur Scargill in protest against proposed pit closures. The miners, however, were fighting not just for high wages but for a way of life that had to be subsidised by other workers. The Union split; its strategy was flawed. Over several decades, almost all the mines were shut down.[42]

Membership decline[edit]

Membership declined steeply in the 1980s and 1990s, falling from 13 million in 1979 to around 7.3 million in 2000. In 2012, union membership dropped below 6 million for the first time since the 1940s.[43][citation needed] From 1980 to 1998, the proportion of employees who were union members fell from 52 per cent to 30 per cent.[44][45]

Academic journals[edit]

  • The Labor History journal, a scholarly publication published by Taylor & Francis[46]
  • Labour History, a scholarly journal published in Australia by the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (ASSLH)[47]
  • The Labour History Review, a scholarly journal published in the UK by the Society for the Study of Labour History[48]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester University Press, 2007)
  2. ^ Keith Laybourn, A History of British Trade Unionism c.1770–1990 (1992) pp 33–34.
  3. ^ Roger Penn, Roger. "Trade union organization and skill in the cotton and engineering industries in Britain, 1850–1960." Social History 8#1 (1983): 37–55.
  4. ^ John Flanagan, "'A gigantic scheme of co-operation': The Miners' and Seamen's United Association in the North-East, 1851–1854." Labour History Review 74#2 (2009): 143–159.
  5. ^ John Field, "British historians and the concept of the labour aristocracy." Radical History Review 1978.19 (1978): 61–85.
  6. ^ Derek Matthews, "1889 and All That: New Views on the New Unionism." International Review of Social History 36#1 (1991): 24–58
  7. ^ Keith Laybourn, A History of British Trade Unionism (1992) pp 72–76
  8. ^ A. E. P. Duffy, "New Unionism in Britain, 1889–1890: A Reappraisal," Economic History Review (1961) 14#2 pp 306–319
  9. ^ Robin Miller Jacoby, "Feminism and Class Consciousness in the British and American Women's Trade Union Leagues, 1890–1925." in Liberating Women's History ed. Berenice Carroll (University of Illinois Press, 1976) pp: 137–60.
  10. ^ Gerry Holloway (2007). Women and Work in Britain since 1840. Routledge. p. 81ff. 
  11. ^ Melanie Reynolds, "'A Man Who Won't Back a Woman is No Man at All'. The 1875 Heavy Woollen Dispute and the Narrative of Women's Trade Unionism." Labour History Review 71#2 (2006): 187–198.
  12. ^ See, for instance, the 1899 Lyons vs. Wilkins judgement, which limited certain types of picketing
  13. ^ Martin Crick, The History of the Social-Democratic Federation
  14. ^ Vic Allen, The militancy of British miners (1981).
  15. ^ Joseph L. White, The Limits of Trade Union Militancy: The Lancashire Textile Workers, 1910–1914 (1978).
  16. ^ Andrew Miles and Mike Savage, The remaking of the British working class, 1840–1940 (Routledge, 2013). pp 80–81
  17. ^ Matt Vaughan Wilson, "The 1911 Waterfront Strikes in Glasgow: Trade Unions and Rank-and-File Militancy in the Labour Unrest of 1910–1914." International Review of Social History 53#2 (2008): 261–292.
  18. ^ John N. Horne, Labour at war: France and Britain, 1914–1918 (1991).
  19. ^ David Swift, "Patriotic labour in the era of the great war" (PhD. Dissertation University of Central Lancashire, 2014) online Detailed bibliography on pp 220–35.
  20. ^ F. M. Leventhal, ed. Twentieth-Century Britain: An Encyclopedia (1995) p 78-80.
  21. ^ Beckett (2007), p 369
  22. ^ Gerry R. Rubin, "Law, War and Economy: The Munitions Acts 1915–17 and Corporatism in Context." Journal of Law and Society 11.3 (1984): 317–333.
  23. ^ Iain McLean, The Legend of Red Clydeside (1983)
  24. ^ B.R. Mitchell, Abstract of British Historical Statistics (1962)
  25. ^ Charles Loch Mowat, Britain between the wars: 1918–1940 (1955) pp 284–338.
  26. ^ Alastair Reid, and Steven Tolliday, "The General Strike, 1926," Historical Journal (1977) 20#4 pp. 1001–1012 in JSTOR
  27. ^ Martin Pugh, "The General Strike," History Today (2006) 56#5 pp 40–47
  28. ^ Charles Loch Mowat, Britain between the wars: 1918–1940 (1955) pp 579–82
  29. ^ Geert Van Goethem, "Labor's second front: the foreign policy of the American and British trade union movements during the second world war." Diplomatic History 34.4 (2010): 663–680.
  30. ^ Andrew Thorpe, "Locking out the Communists: The Labour party and the Communist party, 1939–46." Twentieth Century British History 25.2 (2014): 221–250.
  31. ^ Hue Beynon and Terry Austrin. "The Performance of Power: Sam Watson a Miners' Leader on Many Stages." Journal of Historical Sociology 28.4 (2015): 458–490.
  32. ^ Alan Bullock, The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin: Foreign secretary, 1945–1951 (1983).
  33. ^ Richard Toye, "From 'Consensus' to 'Common Ground': The Rhetoric of the Postwar Settlement and its Collapse," Journal of Contemporary History (2013) 48#1 pp 3–23.
  34. ^ Dennis Kavanagh, "The Postwar Consensus," Twentieth Century British History (1992) 3#2 pp 175–190.
  35. ^ Earl Aaron Reitan (2003). The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979–2001. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 25. 
  36. ^ Kenneth O. Morgan, "Gormley, Scargill and the Miners" in Morgan, Labour people: leaders and lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock (1987) pp 289–300.
  37. ^ Robert Taylor , The TUC: From the General Strike to New Unionism (2000) p. 231
  38. ^ Idesbald Goddeeris (2012). Solidarity with Solidarity: Western European Trade Unions and the Polish Crisis, 1980–1982. pp. 145–48. 
  39. ^ Ben Pimlott and Chris Cook, eds., Trade Unions in British Politics: The First 250 Years (1991) pp 201-3, 290-92.
  40. ^ Neil J. Mitchell, "Where traditional Tories fear to tread: Mrs Thatcher's trade union policy." West European Politics 10#1 (1987): 33–45.
  41. ^ Brian Towers, "Running the gauntlet: British trade unions under Thatcher, 1979–1988." Industrial & Labor Relations Review 42#2 (1989): 163–188.
  42. ^ Francis Beckett and David Hencke, Marching to the fault line: The Miners' Strike and the battle for industrial Britain. (2009).
  43. ^ John Moylan (7 September 2012). "Union membership has halved since 1980". BBC. 
  44. ^ Andrew Charlwood, "The anatomy of union membership decline in Great Britain 1980–1998" (PhD . Diss. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), 2013), Bibliography pp 212–22. online.
  45. ^ Bob Mason, and Peter Bain. "The determinants of trade union membership in Britain: a survey of the literature." Industrial & labor relations review 46.2 (1993): 332–351, asks what caused the decline: environmental determinants (such as the business cycle) or "interventionist" studies, which emphasise union behaviour (such as the involvement of full-time officials in recruiting).
  46. ^ see website
  47. ^ see website
  48. ^ See website

Further reading[edit]

  • Aldcroft, D. H. and Oliver, M. J., eds. Trade Unions and the Economy, 1870–2000. (2000).
  • Allen, V.L. Power in Trade Unions: A Study of Their Organization in Great Britain (1954) online
  • Bellamy, Joyce M. and John Saville, eds. Dictionary of Labour Biography (14 vol. 1977–2010).[1]
  • Bullock, Alan. The Life & Times of Ernest Bevin: Volume One: Trade Union Leader 1881 – 1940 (1960).
  • Boston, S. Women Workers and the Trade Unions (1980). covers 1874–1975.
  • Brivati, B. and Heffernan, eds. The Labour Party: A Centenary History: 1900–2000 (2000)
  • Campbell, Alan. Scottish Miners, 1874–1939. Vol. 1: Industry, Work & Community; The Scottish Miners, 1874–1939. Vol. 2: Trade Unions and Politics (2000).
  • Campbell, A., Fishman, N., and McIlroy, J. eds. British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics: The Post-War Compromise 1945–64 (1999).
  • Charlesworth, Andrew, Gilbert, David, Randall, Adrian, Southall, Humphrey and Wrigley, Chris. An Atlas of Industrial Protest in Britain, 1750–1990 (1996).
  • Clegg, H.A. et al. A History of British Trade Unions Since 1889 (1964); A History of British Trade Unions Since 1889: vol. 2 1911–1933. (1985); A History of British Trade Unionism Since 1889, vol. 3: 1934–51 (1994), The major scholarly history; highly detailed.
  • Davies, A. J. To Build a New Jerusalem: Labour Movement from the 1890s to the 1990s (1996).
  • Field, Geoffrey G. Blood, Sweat, and Toil: Remaking the British Working Class, 1939–1945 (2011) DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199604111.001.0001 online
  • Foote, Geoffrey. The Labour Party's Political Thought: A History, Macmillan, 1997 ed.
  • Hinton, James. Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867–1974 (1983). online
  • Laybourn, Keith. A history of British trade unionism c. 1770–1990 (1992).
  • Lewenhak, Sheila. Women and trade unions: an outline history of women in the British trade union movement (E. Benn, 1977).
  • Minkin, Lewis. The Contentious Alliance: Trade Unions and the Labour Party (1991) 708 pp online
  • Musson, A E. Trade Union and Social History (1974).
  • Pelling, Henry. A history of British trade unionism (1987).
  • Pimlott, Ben, and Chris Cook. Trade Unions in British Politics: The First 250 Years (2nd ed. 1991).
  • Roberts, B C. The Trades Union Congress 1868–1921 (1958).
  • Rosen, Greg, ed. Dictionary of Labour Biography. Politicos Publishing, 2001, 665pp; short biographies of Labour Party leaders.
  • Taplin, E. The Dockers' Union. A Study of the National Union of Dock Labourers, 1889–1922 (Leicester UP, 1986).
  • Taylor, R. The TUC: From the General Strike to New Unionism (2000). excerpt
  • Thorpe, Andrew. A History of the British Labour Party (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
  • Webb, Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The History of Trade Unionism (1894, new edition 1920) Outdated famous history; online.
  • Wrigley, Chris, ed. A History of British industrial relations, 1875–1914 (Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1982), Wide-ranging essays by scholars, including study case studies of coal mining, cotton textiles, transport, and the iron trade.
    • Wrigley, Chris, ed. A History of British Industrial Relations 1914–1939 (1993).
  • Wrigley, Chris, ed. British Trade Unions, 1945–1995 (Manchester University Press, 1997)
  • Wrigley, Chris. British Trade Unions since 1933 (2002) 115 pp online

World wars[edit]

  • Adams, Tony. "Labour and the First World War: Economy, Politics and the Erosion of Local Peculiarity?." Journal of Regional and Local Studies 10 (1990): 23–47.
  • Braybon, G. Women Workers in the First World War (Routledge, 2010).
  • Brooke, Stephen. Labour's war: the Labour party during the Second World War (1992).
  • Burridge, Trevor D. British Labour and Hitler's war (Deutsch, 1976).
  • Bush, J. Behind the Lines: East London Labour, 1914–1919 (Merlin Press, 1984).
  • Calder, Angus. The people's war: Britain 1939–1945 (1969).
  • Cline, C.A. Recruits to Labour: The British Labour Party, 1914–1931 (Syracuse University Press, 1963).
  • Englander, David. "Troops and Trade Unions, 1919", History Today 37 (1987): 8–13.
  • Grieves, K. The Politics of Manpower, 1914–18 (Manchester UP, 1988).
  • Holford, J. Reshaping Labour: Organisation, Work and Politics – Edinburgh in the Great War and After (Croom Helm, 1988).
  • Horne, John N. Labour at war: France and Britain, 1914–1918 (1991).
  • Silbey, D. The British Working Class and Enthusiasm for War, 1914–1916 (Frank Cass, 2005).
  • Summerfield, Penny. Women workers in the Second World War: production and patriarchy in conflict (Routledge, 2013).
  • Swift, David. "Patriotic labour in the era of the great war" (PhD. Dissertation University of Central Lancashire, 2014) online Detailed bibliography on pp 220–35.


  • Callaghan, John, et al. eds., Interpreting the Labour Party: Approaches to Labour Politics and History (2003) online; also online free; 210pp
  • Taylor, Antony. "The Transnational Turn in British Labour History." Labour History Review 81.1 (2016)
  • Zeitlin, Jonathan. "From labour history to the history of industrial relations." Economic History Review 40.2 (1987): 159–184. in JSTOR